We all want our kids to look back with fond memories of family vacations.

Summers spent camping were among my favorites as a child. There were seven of us kids, so camping is what we could afford. Great memories were made sleeping in tents and sitting around the campfire with my brothers, sister and best friend.

Times have changed, but I’ll bet your kids would be easily humored with an affordable long weekend right here in our state.

I’m not going to lie. I dream of going on an all-inclusive trip to Tahiti, but, that one might have to wait awhile.

Who wants to stress about money when planning a getaway? It kind of defeats the purpose. You can plan a fun, budget-friendly vacation for your family — from staying a weekend in a posh hotel to camping in the mountains.

Here are a few ideas to help make planning easy:

Summer specials
at Tucson’s resorts

To most kids — and adults for that matter — vacation is a refreshing pool and no chores. Why not check out a nearby resort? If you want to feel like you’re on vacation and you’re not spending money on travel, you can splurge a little on a room. Plus, as you’ll see below, some of the resorts in Tucson offer great summer specials.

Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort & Spa, 245 E. Ina Road, is offering a “Baja Bound” special, with rates starting at $99 per night with no resort fee from May 18 through Sept. 18. The special includes a passbook of savings on the resort’s restaurants, spa, tennis, horseback riding and more. Call 1-800-722-2500 to make reservations.

The Westin La Paloma, 3800 E. Sunrise Drive, is offering a “Summer Savings Package” with rooms starting at $99 per night. Plus, if you’re staying for two or more nights, you get a $50 food and beverage credit. The special is available May 25 through Aug. 31. Book reservations at www.westinlapalomaresort.com and enter the rate code “savings.” Or call 742-6000.

The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain, 15000 N. Secret Springs Drive in Marana, is offering its “Summer Returns” package, with rates starting at $214. It includes a $50 hotel credit per night. The package is available May 25 through Sept. 11. There’s a $48 nightly resort activities package fee that covers valet parking, high-speed Internet access, daily group fitness class, recreation activities, access to the driving range and putting greens, use of tennis courts and equipment, and use of mountain bikes. Make reservations online at ritzcarlton.com or by calling 572-3000.

Hilton El Conquistador Golf and Tennis Resort, 10000 N. Oracle Road, is offering summer pre-sale rates starting at $79 per night from May 23 through Sept. 1. However, reservations must be made by May 18 to lock in that price. It goes up to $89 after May 18. Upon arrival, guests will receive a passport that includes special resort deals, discounts and access to summer activities. There is a $20 nightly resort service fee. Book online at www.hiltonelconquistador.com or 544-5000.

Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, 7000 N. Resort Drive, is offering a “Get the Jump on Summer” special with rates starting at $89 per night from May 27 through Aug. 30. However, you must book 30 days before your stay. There is a $25 resort fee. Book online at www.loewshotels.com or by calling 299-2020.

The Omni Tucson National Resort, 2727 W. Club Drive, is offering its “Dive Into Summer” promotion, with rooms starting at $149 per night. Included with the special is a $100 cocktail and cuisine credit, “Omni Sensational Kids” backpack filled with fun items, and milk and cookies delivered on the first night. The package is available now through Sept. 1. There is a resort fee of $14 per night. Book online at omnihotels.com or call 297-2271.

Arizona Inn, 220 E. Elm St., has summer rates starting at $99 per night with no resort fee. Included with the special are a complimintary ice cream sundae bar by the pool each evening, free parking, Wi-Fi, bottled water and complimentary newspapers in the morning. Make reservations online at arizonainn.com or by calling 325-1541.


If roughing it in the great outdoors is more your style, here are a couple of camping locations in the area.

Rose Canyon Lake, between Mile Markers 17 and 18 on the Catalina Highway, is just 17 miles away from the city and has temperatures that are 20 to 30 degrees cooler. There are picnic tables, campfire rings with grills, and vault toilets. The lake is stocked with trout for fishing and has a one-mile trail around it for hiking. Tent-only sites are $20 per night. Book online at recreation.gov.

Patagonia Lake in Patagonia offers fishing, swimming, boating, hiking and more. Boat rentals and a small convenience store are on-site. There are two restroom buildings, with showers available at no extra charge. Campsites are $25 to $28 each night, and there is a $5 reservation fee. Book online at azstateparks.itinio.com/patagonialake or call 586-2283.

Did you know you can camp at Colossal Cave and Kartchner Caverns? Tour the caves, then stay the night.

To camp at Colossal Cave, at 16721 E. Old Spanish Trail, you have to pay the daily park-use fee, which is $5 per car, then $1 per person over six people, plus the camping fee, which is only $3 per car. Cave tours are $13 for adults, $6.50 for kids 5 through 12 and free for kids 4 and younger. Call 647-7275 for more information.

Camping at Kartchner Caverns, which is nine miles south of Benson on Arizona Route 90, will cost you a $6-per-vehicle park entrance fee and a $25 camping fee per night. Cave tours cost $23 for anyone age 14 and older, $13 for kids ages 7 through 13, and free for children younger than 7. To make reservations, call 586-2283.

Road trips

Taking a road trip is a great way to get out of town and spend time together. But paying for gas, food and activities can add up. If you plan ahead, though, you can save, as these moms will tell you:

Christina Negrete, mother of two and Arizona Families blogger, suggests buying gift cards to attractions and restaurants to save. “Using gift cards is a double way to save money, because Fry’s and Safeway will give you double fuel points when you buy gift cards,” she said. “So, if you buy $100 in gift cards, you’ll get 200 fuel points.” Sometimes Fry’s even quadruples fuel points. Negrete’s family is planning a Disney vacation in California, so she bought gift cards at Safeway to save at the pump. She also buys gift cards year-round to various restaurants to add to her gas savings. Plus, if you’re low on cash and you want to go out for a meal, you have a gift card. It’s almost like a rainy-day fund.

To keep costs down on road trips, Tucson Mama blogger Julie Reed said to make sure and factor in distance and elevation, especially if you don’t get great gas mileage with your car. “When gas prices were around a dollar, I never factored that cost into road trips,” she said. “But now it’s a big consideration.”

Also, pack a cooler to save money on food, suggests stay-at-home mother of four Rachael Blackketter. “We always keep easy sandwich fixings and treats so we don’t have to spend money on fast food,” she said. “We also will go to the grocery store at our destination and buy dinner instead of a restaurant. Like rotisserie chicken, potato salad and rolls. So much cheaper!”

You can find great deals on activities on websites such as LivingSocial and Groupon. I found a family four-pack of tickets on LivingSocial from Gunfighter and Ghost Tour in Tombstone for $25. This package is regularly priced at $50. These are evening tours, so stay the night at one of several hotels or bed and breakfasts. Check this website for ideas: tombstoneweb.com/lodging. The next day, why not drive 25 minutes to Bisbee? Walk around downtown and check out the Mining and History Museum. This would make a fun, inexpensive getaway. And the kids might learn a few things along the way.

Contact reporter Angela Pittenger at 573-4137 or apitteng@azstarnet.com. Follow her on Twitter @CentsibleMama or on Facebook at facebook.com/centsiblemama.

Families and schools reporter for #ThisIsTucson. Artist, photographer, mother of one.